What is Customer Success (CS)? How is it different than customer service? Whom do success teams report? How do you develop their systems, processes, tech stack, accountability framework, and how do you dare assign quotas and goals?
If you’ve asked yourself any of these questions, you’re in the right place.
I used to define service solely as customer service or customer support. When I first heard the term, Customer Success, I thought it was weird, and it just didn’t make sense to me. I thought someone was trying to get fancy with an old term for a department with a bad reputation. My shortsightedness kept me from learning about and leveraging the power of a well-built CS department, but thankfully that all changed in 2021.
Finding the Value of Customer Success
As a Fractional Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), I get to scale companies for a living. I used to pride myself on my in-depth account management knowledge and how to expand revenue from existing clients, but my customer service knowledge didn’t run as deep. In order to be a real CRO, a full-cycle buyer-journey and customer-journey-centric CRO, I needed to dive deep into the mechanics of Customer Success.
My Deep Dive Process:
- Define Customer Experience (CX), Customer Success, Account Management, Customer Service, and Tech Support as it relates to an individual company.
- Study the market and learn best practices for developing systems, processes, a tech stack, and the accountability framework for Customer Success.
- Develop data-driven quotas, goals, and success metrics for all CS roles.
What I Learned:
Customer experience captures the entire experience a customer has with your brand. Starting when they’re a buyer and learning about your brand for the first time. They may experience your company through social, organic, or paid media, perhaps a podcast, email, phone call, or even a referral from a friend. From there, each buyer develops a perception of your brand, and that perception incites their next action. If your brand messaging captured them emotionally and they were problem-aware or solution-aware, you’ll most likely attract them into your funnel. However, their experience with your marketing tactics and sales tactics can quickly deter them from moving forward in the process.
The Customer’s Experience Starts with Marketing & Sales
Many marketing and sales teams operate separately, with a large wall between them. When those teams don’t communicate or combine their top-of-funnel (TOFU) tactics, a buyer might experience your company vastly differently than you want. They could form a confusing opinion about who you are, who you serve, the key problems you solve, and how you can specifically make their life better.
Once a buyer has been attracted and starts working their way through the middle of your funnel (MOFU), many sales reps put them through a series of duplicate qualification steps, have separate meetings with account executives, and experience slow scheduling with limited engineer resources. Then, they have to wait to receive a proposal, which may have too much canned content and confuse them.
Yes, all of this is part of the customer experience, and they haven’t even become a customer yet. Thankfully, we use HubSpot to build revenue engines for the companies we scale, and at the end of the day, our clients’ customers always win because, with HubSpot, we create a frictionless, end-to-end experience for the customer, from their first touchpoint with the brand, through the funnel, and post-purchase.
The 4 Phases of The Customer’s Journey
Once the buyer becomes a customer, the customer journey begins. The key stages of The Customer’s Journey are:
Phase #1: Adoption
The customer experience should be seamless through the handoff from sales to customer success. The CS team member responsible for onboarding should have access to all the data and information accumulated throughout the sales process.
Thankfully, there are no walls, barriers, or separation of information in the CRM with HubSpot.
Therefore, everyone in marketing, sales, and service can view the complete contact and company record, including all notes, emails, recorded conversations, deals, and any custom fields that need to be tracked. This information collective is critical for customer success teams and the new client onboarding process. If the new customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves or start from scratch, they’re honored in the process, and the momentum continues through their journey.
Phase #2: Retention
Customers want to be retained. Trust me. They want to love your product or service and experience the value proposition that convinced them to buy. What are you doing to ensure adoption is secured at the end of implementation and the ROI and value are experienced through their first renewal or between their first and second transactional purchase?
Customers will stay on a product or service if they’re happy and their needs are being met.
They’ll also stay as long as the product or service's value is more or equal to the amount of money they spend on it.
Phase #3: Expansion
To expand revenue, customers want to be educated without an aggressive or pushy sales conversation. They most likely enjoyed the consultative nature of the online digital buying experience or that of your consultative salesperson if they made an initial purchase decision. So why not continue that same level of education, care, and guidance throughout the customer journey?
It’s 7 times less expensive to retain a customer than acquire a new one.
Phase #4: Advocacy
Lastly, happy customers want to refer. When was the last time you spoke highly of a product or service you love? It’s human nature to spread the good news. But you, as the brand, have to make it easy and not awkward for the customer to advocate for you. Some of the best customer incentive programs we have seen exist in the DTC space. B2B companies tend to struggle with this strategy, as they solely rely on salespeople to awkwardly ask for referrals, which they most likely don’t do anyway. Customers do refer. They do write reviews. They do tell their friends, family, and co-workers about great products and services. What are you doing to encourage and capture that advocacy and create CSQLs?
The 4 Key CS Role Definitions
After diving deep into the different customer support roles, I’ve landed on the following definitions for each one:
Customer Success Manager (CSM)
This person owns new client onboarding, adoption, and retention. Depending on the size of your organization, you may also have a new client onboarding specialist whose sole focus is implementation, and then they’re passed to the CSM. The CSM role is responsible for relationship management, adoption, and retention. That is all. This role is not responsible for upselling or advocacy.
Account Manager (AM)
This role is responsible for revenue expansion. Key Account Managers (KAM) should be responsible for your key accounts, the most important customers. Account Managers are responsible for the rest of the client base. Both roles should have a defined sales plan with quotas, goals, and activity metrics.
Customer Service Representative (CSR)
This role is responsible for reactive, hot support needs. Think about 1-800# call-centers with personnel who can immediately respond to customer needs 24/7. This role typically is for transactional support needs and won’t maintain a book of business to maintain customer relationships long term. They’re also not responsible for adoption, retention, or expansion. They simply meet immediate needs that arise with customers.
Technology (Tech) Support
This role is found with companies that sell and support a technical product. This role is for bugs, log-in or access issues, and potentially setting up APIs and integrations. The tech support role may or may not be customer-facing; they may support the CSMs and CSRs behind the scenes or interface directly with customers. If you sell equipment or machinery, you may have technical field support onsite for installation, repairs, and maintenance.
Train Your CS Staff to Upsell
Even though the CSR and Tech Support roles don’t have a sales quota, teach them how to identify upsell opportunities and create a handoff to the Account Manager or New Business Development Salesperson.
Popular CS programs include:
- S.O.A.R.: Service Opportunities for Accelerating Revenue
- S.T.A.R.: Service Technicians Accelerating Revenue
Each program will benefit from having bonuses or other forms of compensation for incentivizing referrals.
How to Develop Your Customer Success Department
After much trial and error, I’ve learned how to develop systems, processes, tech stack, and the accountability framework for customer success.
Step #1: Audit Everything. Absolutely Everything.
The first step is to audit all facets of the CS data, people, and processes. Here is a list of the outputs of my audit:
- Gaps with each job description of each role and identified misalignment of how the role achieves optimal customer experience.
- Benchmark each team member’s current ability to perform in their role. Produce a list of movement of people, if merited, inside the organization to a new role or a transition plan to leave the company.
- Churn audit, by customer type, industry, size, tenure, and product/service type, to identify trends in high churn.
- An upsell chart that indicates all unsold products and services, by client, with the corresponding revenue amount, which serves as the basis to build quotas for account managers.
- Indication if the customer journey map matches the behaviors of the success team members or if the operational workflow needs to be adjusted to match the way the customer prefers to be supported.
- Tech stack review, understanding all technologies used by the CS department, their expense, features, overlaps, manual or duplicate entry, underused or misused technologies, and gaping holes of needed functionality.
Step #2: Fail to Plan. Plan to Fail.
The second step is to build an execution plan that matches the audit findings to bridge the gap between the current state and the future state. The execution plan starts with an executive CRO-level summary of the vision for the department, success metrics, the gap between, and a detailed plan of how to achieve success. The critical elements of the detailed execution plan include:
- Refined Customer Journey Map with detailed steps of each stage, milestones, and success metrics.
- For example, how do we define adoption? What actions, within what length of time, does our customer need to take for us to consider them an adopted user on our platform? Or how many purchases do they need to make before we consider them to have adopted our product as part of their routine or life? Or what kind of knowledge and expertise do they need to demonstrate to show they’re educated on our service and how to leverage what we provide?
- For retention, how do we encourage renewals or repeat purchases? What is the length of time between renewals or repeat purchases, and how do we encourage this action to avoid churn? What is our allowable churn rate and LTV for each customer?
- For expansion, how much revenue do we have sitting in the base, by client, waiting to be upsold? What is our step-by-step process to capture that additional revenue within what length of time?
- More on this in the next section.
- More on this in a bit.
Step #3: Align Your CS Tech Stack
Let’s dig deeper into the CS tech stack. In 2021, we learned about HubSpot’s Service Hub, and recently, several technical advancements have been released, making this Hub a top contender in the service space. At first, the simplicity of the Hub caused us to believe it wouldn’t be strong enough to support the robust revenue engines we’re known for creating. Well, as it turns out, this Hub’s simplicity is actually its competitive advantage and by no means affects its power.
The Key Elements of Service Hub:
- Conversations and ticketing are the perfect blend to create engagement and a positive customer communication experience.
- The knowledge base stores in-depth answers to the most frequently asked questions, and it can provide information that makes way for more digitized, self-led onboarding for PLG companies.
- The survey function is customizable and can serve all CSAT and NPS scoring needs.
Those three functions sit in the same CRM that holds all contact and company data. The ticketing function has AI built-in and can integrate with other tools, like Jira, to separate tech support tickets from CS tickets. The conversations tool has functionality that allows conversations to be routed in the right direction based on how the customer answers questions. You can also link knowledge base articles to the conversations tool, which helps reduce the need for phone calls and emails since many questions are answered with knowledge base articles and videos.
Lastly, we’ve transformed our customer success efforts with Service Hub and now use dozens of custom surveys throughout the customer journey to ensure we’re tracking and meeting or exceeding expectations every step of the way. We’ve even tied survey scores to individual team member scorecards that determine incentive pay bonus calculations.
Step #4: Customer Success KPIs to Start Tracking
To wrap up this article, below are a few of the key metrics we recommend top-performing CS departments consider tracking:
- Customer health scores
- CSAT scores
- Early warning indicators for churn
- We also believe account managers should have quotas, goals, and accountability trackers for daily, weekly, and monthly activity.
All in, following this process will help you level up your customer success department!
- Audit your existing data, people, and processes.
- Produce a gap analysis between your current state and your desired future state.
- Develop a detailed action plan based on the gap analysis.
- Identify the team members who are responsible for each step of the plan.
- Develop KPIs and metrics to measure what you have built, and iterate when necessary.
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